How Many Naps Does Your Baby Need?

Sleep is vital for babies and young children, whose brains and bodies are developing at an extraordinary rate — but nighttime rest isn't enough. Regular naps help them get the sleep they need.

Do your best to encourage your baby to nap consistently. But keep in mind that his temperament and natural bodily rhythms will help determine how and when he naps. Some babies nap for long stretches every day right from the start and settle easily into a pattern. Others do just fine taking shorter naps or napping at less regular times.

How many naps a day should my baby take?

As a newborn, your baby will sleep for two to four hours at a time, day and night. At this stage, you shouldn't expect any sort of napping pattern. Just let your baby sleep as much as he needs to.

When your baby's 6 to 8 weeks old, he's likely to start consolidating his sleep — he'll sleep less often and for longer stretches at a time. He'll probably need two to four naps a day, and perhaps even more.

At 3 to 4 months of age, many babies begin to follow a more predictable pattern of daytime sleep. This is a good time to start developing a nap schedule (see our tips, below).

By 6 months, your baby will probably be taking two or three naps a day: one in the morning, one in the early afternoon, and another later in the afternoon.

At 9 to 12 months, most babies are down to a solid two naps a day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. And by 18 months, most children give up their morning nap altogether but continue to snooze in the afternoon. They'll continue with this pattern until they're 3 or 4 years old.

These are typical patterns, but not all babies follow them. Every baby has his own unique sleep habits. For more information, check out our sample baby sleep schedules.

Scheduling your baby's naps

When your baby's 3 to 4 months old, you can work on developing a nap schedule that's compatible with his natural sleep cycles.

Read the signs
Pay attention to your baby's sleep signals. Does he begin to rub his eyes and get fussy midmorning or right after lunch? Does he often fall asleep in the car in the early afternoon? Do you notice a difference in his alertness and overall mood when he sleeps for longer or shorter periods?

You might want to keep a record of your baby's sleep signals and naps for a week or two. This will help you see your baby's patterns so you can anticipate naps.

For example, if your baby gets cranky and ready to nap by 10 o'clock every morning, you can ease him into it before he gets overtired. Start 15 to 20 minutes before you expect his sleep signals to show up — feed, change, and rock him quietly, keeping your voice low. That way he's already on the road to sleep when that tired feeling overtakes him.

Stick to a schedule
Consistency is the goal: Try to schedule your baby's naps for roughly the same time every day. If you put your baby down for his afternoon nap at 3 o'clock one day and right after lunch the next, for example, your child will have more trouble developing a regular sleep pattern.

Try to avoid activities that conflict with your baby's nap schedule. If an older sibling needs to be picked up at school during naptime, for example, see if you can come up with an alternative arrangement.

If your baby is in daycare during the week and has a regular nap schedule when he's there, follow a similar schedule on the weekends when he's at home with you.
Get more tips on establishing a successful baby schedule.

Don't stress over interruptions
You won't be able to arrange it so your entire household revolves around your baby's nap schedule — especially if you have other children. Life events will interrupt your schedule, and if naps are skipped or delayed from time to time, it isn't a disaster. If you have a solid, regular structure that you can rely on, it'll be easier to get back on track after the inevitable disruptions.

Figuring out the best nap schedule for your baby will take some trial and error, and it will likely change as your child reaches new developmental milestones. You'll need to assess your baby's sleep needs and habits regularly and alter the schedule accordingly.

Developing a nap ritual

A naptime ritual is a good idea, for the same reason it's recommended at night: It helps your child wind down and signals that the sleep period is approaching, so your baby is prepared to rest.

Your naptime ritual can be shorter and less elaborate than the bedtime ritual: a story, a song, and a cuddle, for example. Once you've developed a routine that works for you and that you both enjoy, stick to it as closely as possible.

More practical tips for naps

•  Pajamas aren't necessary, but make sure your child is dressed in comfortable clothing that's neither too light nor too heavy.

•  Playtime in the period before your baby's nap should be quiet. Avoid loud noise and stimulating play that could make it hard for you child to settle down and go to sleep.

•  When you can, put your child down for his nap in the same place he sleeps at night, which he'll associate with going to sleep.

•  If you're going on a trip or you know you'll be away from home at naptime, be sure to pack the books and anything else your child has come to associate with sleeping. This will help you maintain your baby's nap and bedtime routine wherever you are.

•  Don't wait until your child is overly tired before beginning your going-to-sleep routine. If you do, your child may be too wound up to sleep well — or even to sleep at all. If your child isn't much of a napper, don't blame yourself or your parenting skills — even if your best friend reports that her child is taking three-hour naps every day. All you can do is offer your child the opportunity to sleep by preparing him and putting him down on a consistent schedule.

Your baby may be a natural catnapper, consistently napping for less than an hour at a time. As long as he doesn't seem too tired, fussy, or difficult during waking hours, he's getting the sleep he needs.

~ Courtesy of BabyCenter

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